I have to admit that I’ve NEVER seen any Poirot — vintage, modern, you name it. I’m sorry, gods of all things 1930s! Recently my film-buff husband made me watch Evil Under the Sun (1982) which I actually quite enjoyed, so we followed it up last week with Death on the Nile (1978). I particularly wanted to see the latter, as it won the Oscar for Best Costume Design that year. I’ll talk about the two in chronological order, though.
Both films were quite entertaining! I liked Peter Ustinov as Poirot (although I’m told that he may not be everyone’s ultimate Belgian detective), and I liked the twee British-ness of them both. Although while clearly the “we’re civilized Brits in a savage land” thing was played tongue-in-cheek, at the same time, it felt like that was the honest feeling of the film, which was a little squicky. I liked that both films take their time establishing characters and plot before the murder happens, that there are SO many possible suspects, and although it would be pretty tough to guess who actually did it, the Big Reveal of the Murderer isn’t TOTALLY out of left field. (Sometimes mysteries do that, where there is no way you could ever possibly have gotten any clues, and that’s just stupid. It makes the Big Reveal a tell, not show.)
In terms of costumes, yeah Death on the Nile was pretty darn stunning. Evil Under the Sun had some good elements, but let too much of 1982 creep in. Both were designed by Anthony Powell, who won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design for Death on the Nile. He also won it for Travels With My Aunt (1972) and Tess (1979) and was nominated for Pirates (1986), Hook (1991), and 102 Dalmatians (2000).
Death on the Nile Costumes
There’s some lead up, but essentially, a whole bunch of Brits end up on a boat headed up the Nile River in Egypt. You’ve got Poirot (the Belgian detective); a wealthy heiress and her new husband, who she stole from her best friend (Mia Farrow) and who is along to make the newlyweds’ lives hell; the heiress’s maid and her lawyer; Bette Davis as an older rich lady with her companion, the testy and very boyish Maggie Smith; Angela Lansbury as a hilariously dramatic romance novelist, along with her shy daughter; a colonel; a communist; and a famous doctor. Phew!
I don’t want to give away too much plot, so let’s just get to the costumes, shall we?
I haven’t seen the other films nominated for that year (Caravans, Days of Heaven, The Swarm, The Wiz), but I’d say that Anthony Powell’s win was richly deserved, just based on the quality of this film.
Evil Under the Sun Costumes
This film came out four years later, with many of the same actors as Death on the Nile. This time the setting is a remote Mediterranean resort in the fictional country of Tyrania, which is run by Maggie Smith’s character, a retired actress and former mistress to the King of Tyrania. Again you’ve got a bunch of Brits on holiday in a closed setting. This time, Poirot is joined by Arlena (the starting-to-age star actress, played by Diana Rigg), her new husband and his daughter (who is NOT happy about her new stepmother); Patrick and Christine, a young-ish couple — Patrick clearly cheats right and left on Christine, who is very wallflowery; the American producer and his wife, who are desperate to get Arlena to star in a new theater production; and Roddy McDowall as a songwriter.
The story and dialogue are just as good as Evil Under the Sun, and again the movie takes its time setting up the plot and characters, and gives you a slight chance at being able to solve the murder (but very slight).
The problem is that the costumes are 1930s mashed with 1980s:
All in all, both were very entertaining, but Death on the Nile wins hands down for accurate and gorgeous costumes, while Evil Under the Sun gets knocked down a point or two for letting the 1980s creep in.
Are you a Poirot fan? Are you an art deco fan? What do you think of these films and their costumes?